Monday, 31 January 2011

Harry Potter Winter Camp 2010-11

We're deep into winter vacation here at the moment, it's extremely cold (-18°C on my way into work yesterday) and, because it's vacation time, and all the kids and most of the teachers are away, I'm sat in my classroom desk warming again. Oh, the many splendoured joys of desk warming, every Native English Teacher's favourite vacation activity. For those not in the know, 'desk warming' is a bizarre Korean educational concept that involves the Native English teacher coming in to school during the holidays to sit at (warm) their desk despite having no classes or any work to do - keeps us out of trouble I guess. We are given 4 weeks of vacation time in our contract so that's just what we get. Still, it's a good time to reply to all those emails, update the blog and watch all those movies you'd never thought you'd have time to see - all on someone else's heating bill!

The road my school is on was covered in a thick, undisturbed layer of snow for most of the duration of my camp.

Icicles hanging off the shelters next to the sports pitch at Rowan's school.

So, what have we been up to so far in the winter vacation period I hear you ask. Well, we've been away in Thailand for the last 2 weeks on holiday, hence the blogging silence (more on that later). But before that, Rowan and I were both running our Winter English camps at our respective schools. We both had to run English camps back in the summer ( so we knew what was required of us this time around and this time we were smart and worked on the camp preparation and materials together so we only had to do the half the workload! As with the summer camps, there is no actual 'camping' involved it's just an extra couple of weeks of 'fun' English classes that the students can sign up to for free if they want to (or if their parents force them too!).

The theme for our camps this year was Harry Potter as the new movie had just come out in Korea at the time and lots of our students seemed really into it. Also, there were loads of useful ESL materials and ideas available online (in particular a really big, helpful thread on,1026.0.html) related to Harry Potter which always helps. Both of our camps were scheduled to run over two weeks with us seeing 2 different groups of around 10 students for an hour and a half each in the morning, so 3 hours of teaching a day. This was much better than my Summer Camp set up where my school had made me teach all of the camp in one week in all day sessions (9am - 4pm solid teaching with an hour for lunch) with no help and no prep time - that nearly killed me. My camp started a week earlier than Rowan's so I got to be the trail blazer and test all the material first. We'd planned the camp along the lines of the classes that Harry and his magical chums take at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry so each day had a different theme. The subjects we covered included Shopping in Diagon Alley, Magical Creatures, Herbology, Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts and Divination. We also had that old camp favourite, Movie Day, the day when the teacher gets a bit of a break!

If you happen to be an English teacher reading this and you want to use some (or all) of our ideas/materials for your camp, you can find the files online. Rowan has put the whole thing into a zip file which includes lesson plans, presentations, worksheets, fonts, and EVERYTHING else you need for a camp aimed at the first two grades of middle school. Obviously, it could also be adapted for other ages too. The zip file also includes Korean subs for the Deathly Hallows movie if you need them. Please feel free to use the materials how you want and have a look at the readme document as it contains some learning points and suggestions for ways to improve the camp based on our experience. Drop us a message if you have any questions about the camp. Here's the link -

On the first day of camp, we did the usual thing of getting the kids to choose English names, explaining the rules and splitting them into teams for the rest of the camp. We split the kids into four houses (teams) named after the Hogwarts Houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Predictably enough, nobody wanted to be in Hufflepuff from either of our camps and Gryffindor was the most wanted out of all the team names. Weirdly, the Slytherin kids from both of our camps were actually really sweet and well behaved - not living up to their house name!

Each team had to draw a banner for their House name. This is my Slytherin team's effort.

This was perhaps my favourite house banner attempt as it was a hybrid of 3 of the houses - all except the evil Slytherin of course!

For the second day of camp, we covered shopping. This involved the students performing role plays where they had to return a faulty item (a cauldron or wand or something magical) and either ask for a refund or get a replacement. Getting them to write and perform the role plays was quite hard work but they did enjoy the part where we made wands out of air dry clay and chopsticks! Day 3 was Herbology, or the study of plants in muggle terminology. That involved learning some new vocabulary, playing a game and planting some fast growing little plants we had got from a pound shop (or dime store for you Americans out there) called Daiso. The plants were a mixture of basil and Winter rocket and they came as seeds with individual pots. The students loved this part of the lesson and had great fun getting dirt and water all over the place while planting the seeds. We took the plants home with us for a week or so to keep them warm as both our classrooms were extremely cold when there was no class on (i.e. without the heating on) and then brought them back once they had sprouted to give back to the students to take home with them. On day 4, we covered Mystical Creatures and made origami dragons as part of the lesson. I had been worried that making the dragons was too complicated and it would fall down flat in the class but I needn't have stressed about it. My kids were great at origami and most of them were racing ahead and adding their own personal touches to their creations.

Wands and origami dragons from Rowan's camp.

Clay wands from my camp including an unusual gun shaped wand made by one of my more violent students.

Luckily, all the little plants from my Herbology class sprouted and the kids actually seemed genuinely excited about taking them home with them mid way through week 2.

Amusing worksheet from Rowan's camp: the kids had to design their own magical plant. This is a wing tree, If you eat its seeds you will grow wings on your back and be able to fly.

Amusing worksheet number 2: Eating this flower will cause you to become invisible.

Origami dragons made by my students in the Mystical Creatures class.

This boy was so good at origami he managed to make 2 dragons at once and produced a tiny one to sit on the back of his ordinary sized one - very cute!

Amusing worksheet no. 3: designing a magical creature this time. This is a "quill ray man walrus to the swordfish moose scorpion pig tail is the monkey is anteater hippopotamus rhinoceros the bison antelope is goose octopus..." and apparently it looks like an alien.

Another magical creature: This one is called a "masnaken" and it eats human food like pizza but sleeps and lives like a snake and can shoot poison from its mouth.

I think by far our most successful and popular lesson was Potions class on day 5. In fact, one of Rowan's students told him it was the craziest thing they’d ever done! The idea of the class was to teach them some vocab and get them following instructions in English whilst having fun and making something vaguely fit for human consumption. First, we got them to make two potions, a polyjuice potion (in the books/movies this potion allows the drinker to turn into somebody else) and a truth serum. Rowan did all the work on this and put his science bent to use, particularly for the polyjuice potion, which was made using red cabbage juice (mm mm!) as a base and then adding various acids and alkalis (such as baking soda and orange juice) to make it go through a series of colour changes which was pretty cool. Both the potions looked quite unusual when they were finished but the truth serum probably looked the least palatable. I think more of my students drank them than Rowan's but I still had one kid who dashed off to the toilets after "one-shotting" his brown, bubbling pint of truth serum!

Ingredients for the potions: Slug slime (pancake syrup), unicorn blood (cola), mandrake juice (lemonade), spider blood (orange juice), dragon blood (cabbage juice), dirt (cocoa powder) and fairy dust (baking soda). Delicious!

Making the colour changing polyjuice potion.

Mr "One shot" shortly before he made his speedy dash to the little boys room.

Some of my students actually liked their potions but Kevin clearly didn't.

Rowan's students wouldn't drink their potions apparently. Not surprising if they made them look like this!

The next stage of the Potions class was to get them to make ice cream in a bag - magic ice cream of course! The basic idea is that you put milk into a small freezer bag and then put that bag inside a larger freezer bag. Then put some ice in the larger bag and add salt to the ice. This creates a reaction which causes the temperature to be lowered and so freezes the milk and turns it into ice cream. Cool science! It was freezing outside so I wondered if they would actually be into this activity but it seems that winter is the time to eat ice cream in Korea as they believe that you should eat cold food when its cold and hot food when it's hot, weird but a bonus to our camps. We gave the kids recipe cards and used an online video to explain the instructions on how to make the ice cream. Then we cracked out the ingredients (cartons of flavoured milk, salt, ice cubes, sweets and candy to go in the ice cream) and the freezer bags for them to make it in and let them get started on it. It was messy but great fun.

Step 1 - Pour the flavoured milk into a small plastic freezer bag and seal it carefully.
Step 2 - Add four cups of ice to the large plastic bag

Step 3 - Put the small bag inside a large plastic bag and seal it.

Step 4 - Add five spoons of magic freezing powder (salt) to the ice, not the milk, as one of Rowan's students did - it doesn't taste good if you do that!

Step 5 - Shake the bag for about five minutes or until the ice cream is frozen.

Step 6 - Take the small bag out of the big bag. Open the small bag and eat the ice cream.

Step 7 (optional) - Teacher should try to steal ice cream and/or candy from the students.

We kicked off week 2 with a Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson, which was really just an excuse to play silly games. We played a couple of pretty amusing games, Goblin, Goblin, Draw and the Dragon Egg Relay Race. the first game was set up like a duel but instead of shooting bullets at each other the two participants had to shout out the vocabulary word associated with the picture that was taped to their opponent. The dragon egg race was just like a good old fashioned egg and spoon race but with ping pong balls instead of eggs as we didn't want our classrooms to be splattered in raw chicken ovulations. We also played Harry Potter Top Trumps using the beautiful cards that Rowan had painstakingly made. The kids loved the top trumps, even the girls got stuck into it and at the end of every class that week they would ask me if they could get the top trumps cards out to play a few games before they went home. It became hard work getting rid of the students at the end of the morning!

One of my students from Ravenclaw House running with the dragon egg (ping pong ball) balanced on his spoon.

The teams had to race to the white board with their "egg" and spoon. I'd written VOLDEMORT on the board and the idea was that the kids had to write a word beginning with each letter, taking it in turns to write one word at a time and then race back so their next team mate could write the next word.

Playing Harry Potter Top Trumps.

The next day we did a class on Divination (talking about the future) which was mainly about practicing future tense and completing a few worksheets but we kept it pretty light and fun too and played a video clips prediction game, where each house had to make predictions about what they thought would happen next in a series of different videos incl. sports and science experiment clips. The video clips game went down well and the students seemed to particularly enjoy the science experiment clips. The next day was a lesson on Muggle Studies (to the uninitiated, muggles are people who don't have any magical powers) where we looked at muggle vs magic transport. That was quite a fun class and we played some more card games to round it off, this time Go Fish with transport flashcards. Then it was my favourite day (only joking!), Movie Day. We let our students vote for what film they wanted as we had copies of all of them with Korean subs. Both mine and Rowan's students voted to watch the latest Harry Potter movies, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows". On the last day, we did a camp review class. This involved sending the kids off on a crazy scavenger hunt, playing some games to review what we'd learnt, giving out certificates to the students for "graduating" from Hogwarts and declaring and rewarding the winning teams.

The scavenger hunt involved students working in groups to follow instructions such as taking photos of certain things on their phones, finding items around the school and other random challenges such as singing a song in English or, in this case, drawing a picture of Harry Potter riding a giraffe.

One of the award certificates we gave students for graduating from Hogwarts school (our camps!)

One of my students' had their birthday on the last day of camp so I got her a cake to celebrate.

Rowan's boys with their graduation certificates.

Overall, I think our camps were both pretty successful. I enjoyed this one much more than the summer camp as I knew better what I was doing and I wasn't so exhausted as I was doing it over 2 weeks instead of one. English camp is the best time to get to know at least a few students better as in ordinary day-to-day teaching in a public middle school it's very hard to get to know the students as individuals as you see a class of 30 - 40 students once a week for 45 mins and that's it. I prefer camps mainly for that reason. Also, camps give the teacher a lot more freedom as you're on your own usually and you teach what you want to, no textbooks, which is much more fun, though more preparation work of course. Not everything went to plan as is usually the case with teaching. There seemed to be a higher student dropout rate for the winter camp than there had been for the summer one, perhaps because of the harsher weather. This meant that there weren't enough students to have two separate groups so both Rowan and I put our 2 groups together and ran the sessions for 2 hours instead of 2 x 1.5 hours classes. This was good for us as there was less teaching time and good for the students as the classes were bigger, more lively and we had more time for activities. We both found that the first few lessons were a little weaker than the later stuff but maybe some of that was because of the awkward atmosphere which can exist in the first few days of a camp. In general though, it was a good camp and the kids were cheerful and enthusiastic. I was actually a little saddened when it was over - not too much you understand - just a little.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Hapkido - A Korean Martial Art

Since October 2010, we have been in secret martial arts training somewhere deep in the Gwangju underground. If you have a problem, if no-one else can help and if you can find us, maybe you can hire us, the Hapkido A-Team....

But seriously, for the past 3 - 4 months we have been going to Hapkido classes in Gwangju on weekday nights and have been learning all kinds of skills and finding muscles we'd never even realised we had. And falling over and making fools of ourselves. I had been interested in learning a new skill while we were in Korea and I thought either Taekwondo or Hapkido could be a fun way to meet new people, get a bit of exercise and learn a bit more bout Korean culture. Also, I have a bit of a phobia about falling over. I know that no-one likes falling over and most people will try to avoid it but I positively despise any situation i which my chances of falling over might be increased (icy pavements, narrow mountain paths, ice skating - the horror!). It's not even that I tend to fall over more than most people or anything I just have a real fear of it - maybe I don't trust my own balance. So I figured taking up some random martial art where you will get thrown around and will more than likely spend some time falling over would probably be a good way to get over my terror. Or drive me to the edge of my sanity with fear, one or the other.

I was definitely leaning towards Hapkido rather than Taekwondo as it's fairly easy to do Taekwondo in the UK whereas I'd never heard of Hapkido until I came to Korea so I figured it would be fun to try something we wouldn't easily be able to do back home. Trouble was, I had no idea how to even begin to find a suitable Hapkido club that would be willing to take on two adult foreigners with little to no Korean language skills. In Korea, it is usual to send very young kids to martial arts clubs after school and you often see tiny tots running around outside with their training uniforms on and their coloured belts performing all manner of kicks and punches, usually on each other. Most Korean children will at some point learn Taekwondo and/or Hapkido. The problem with that is that it means that many of the clubs primarily teach children and teenagers rather than adults so on top of the language barrier there's the awkwardness of being the only adult in the class surrounded by highly excitable and lethally trained children. I tried looking around for some classes that catered specifically to foreigners but there weren't any close to our area and the ones that are for foreigners seemed to be more expensive (of course). By chance, I met a fellow waygook (foreigner) in the bank when I was sending some money home and we got chatting. She told me about a hapkido class that she and her husband attended in Gwangju and gave me the directions on where to find it. Rowan wasn't particularly into the idea of doing hapkido at the time but he came with me when I went to the club to find out if I could join and the master and the other guys their pretty much bullied him into coming too. We both got a really good deal for our lessons there. We pay 50,000 won per month, which is nearly half the normal price because we get a discount for being teachers (don;'t ask me why) and we had to pay another 50,000 won at the beginning to get our 도복 (dobok - training uniform). The master was keen for us to start immediately but I managed to convince him that I really wasn't dressed appropriately for hapkido yet but would definitely come back tomorrow and start.

Rowan posing in his dobok in the hapkido gym.

So, before I go any further I should probably explain what hapkido is. Well, hapkido (합기도) is a modern Korean martial art that evolved from jujutsu, a Japanese martial art (though apparently this is not often discussed due to the animosity between Korea and Japan after the Japanese Occupation of Korea). According to good ole Wikipedia, the name hapkido means "the way of coordinating energy", "the way of coordinated power" or "the way of harmony". Hapkido is a form of self defense that has the usual kicks and punches common to most martial arts as well as joint locks and joint manipulation, judo style throws and pressure point strikes. Body positioning and nifty footwork are key as the aim in hapkido is to out maneuver your opponent and get into a position with good leverage rather than to try to fight head on in a strength against strength style. Apparently. it shouldn't matter how big, heavy or strong you are in relation to your opponent, if you know your stuff in hapkido you should be able to beat a larger, stronger opponent by using their weight against them. Hapkido also employs the use of various weapons including swords, nunchaku, canes, sticks and staffs though I haven't used these yet (but other waygooks at our class have so hopefully we will get a go soon).

Our class is presided over by "The Master" (I'm ashamed to admit I don't actually know his real name), an affable Korean chap with a black belt (of course), strangely prehensile feet and a propensity to giving long lectures at the end of class in Korean while we're all sat in a rather uncomfortable kneeling position - not sure what these lectures are about, maybe our lack of discipline or perhaps the evils of Taekwondo, who knows. There are also 2 or 3 other young black belt guys who are assistant instructors and lead the class when the Master is not there. Our routine at hapkido class is generally a bit different each day and focuses on different things from kicks to rolls to practising joint locks and throws. The beginning and end of each class is always the same though and goes something like this:
  • Everyone starts by kneeling in ranks on the floor with the higher belt grades at the front and the lowest ones at the back. The instructor at the front will say some stuff in Korean and we all stand up and call out this little 3 line chant that translates as something like "Right body (바른 몸) right mind (바른 마음) right spirit (바른 정신 ) then we do a little bow and slap our right fist against our left palms and say "hap-ki".
  • We get a bit lost at the next part and just copy everyone else by putting out right hand over the left side of our chests and looking serious. I think everyone else is saying some kind of pledge of allegiance to Korea but I'm not sure as I don't understand what they are saying. Then the class starts and we spend between 10 to 25 mins doing exercises such as push ups, sit ups, jogging, stretches, jumps and the like. How hardcore the exercises are depends on which instructor we get that day and how mean they're feeling. After the exercises are complete, we get on with whatever the main focus of that day's class is.
  • Class always ends with everyone getting back into their ranks kneeling on the floor just as at the beginning. Then the instructor says some stuff in Korea, presumably releasing us from the dojang (training hall) as you're not supposed to leave without permission, we all get up and shout the stuff about having the right body, right mind etc. and thank the instructor and end with the bow and say "hap-ki" again.
Hapkido students kneeling at the beginning of a class. Rowan and I are at the back somewhere as we still have very low level colour belts.

We have to face the front where the instructor stands (the guy in white) and where the Korean flag is displayed.

Often, as part of our warm up exercises, we have to all stand in a circle around the instructor and perform set sequences of moves. It took us quite a whole to learn these as it's quite hard to pick up at the same time as doing it.

One of the young black belt guys demonstrates a jump during the warm up exercise phase.

Rowan doing his least favourite exercises in which you're required to sit back and balance yourself without using your hands while cycling through a sequence of leg movements. These really pull on your stomach muscles and burn like hell.

The main portion of the class is usually devoted to a different set of skills each day. These include learning how to roll, fall, punch, throw and kick correctly. When we first started, neither of us had done anything like a forward roll in years, probably not since school so it was a bit awkward at first getting back into it but doing all the rolls, cartwheels and handsprings on the big floor mat is always pretty fun. Now we are both pretty good at forward and back rolls, and we're getting better with the cartwheels and handsprings though they're pretty tough. Punching and kicking correctly is surprisingly difficult and it's taken me ages to be able to kick accurately. This week I finally mastered the turning kick without falling over so that's an achievement at any rate. Iwas once made to do a load of push ups as punishment for missing the pads too many time when performing kicks so I really wanted to get them down. Learning how to escape from different wrist and arm grips is something else we spend a lot of time on and is also something I really struggle with as it's difficult remembering all the different moves for each pattern. These patterns are integral to belt testing so they're pretty important to remember too. Learning the different throws is quite fun as it means I get to throw Rowan about legitimately!

The older of the young black belt instructors performing a handstand. No, we can't do that yet but one day, maybe.

More acrobatics from one of our instructors. This guy is pretty tall, especially by Korean standards and he always looks very serious while doing hapkido.

The guy in the red belt is amazing at hapkido. He moves in such a graceful way when performing the jumps, kicks, rolls etc. that it looks like he is performing ballet not a martial art.

The black belt and red belt guys can perform some pretty awesome acrobatic tricks. When we first started going to Hapkido though, I could barely watch as it often looked as though they were going to land on their heads!

More crazy jumps.

Red belt guy (I don't know many of the names of the people who attend hapkido class) performing a handspring. Note the straightness of his arms and body. He will flip over and land up on his feet at the end of this trick.

This is me trying to perform the same maneuver - the handspring - and failing to do it correctly as my arms are bent , my body is not straight and I am nit kicking enough as I go round. I'm better at this one now but I still haven't managed to land standing upright at the end yet.

Red belt guy again demonstrating one of the break falls we have to do but doing it from a jump rather than the way I do it - from crouching on the floor so I don't have as far to fall! I reckon if you chucked red belt guy out of a window he would land, cat-like, on all fours, having performed a series of back flips on the way down.

Me in the final position of the same fall - with palms and forearms and toes on the ground.

We also devote a lot of time to learning different patterns of moves including kicks, punches and other defensive movements that are required for us to move to the next belt colour. We started as white belts and passed our tests to become yellow belts back in November. For that test, we had to learn 5 sequences and 3 wrist locks. The rest of the class were to have their tests on Saturday, but seeing as we never go on Saturdays the Master made us do our tests on a Friday in front of the rest of the class which was a bit nerve wracking. It was cool passing our belt grading though and our new yellow belts actually had our names embroidered on them in Korean script with gold thread (or a close facsimile of our names - mine says "Sopeeah" and Rowan's says "Rowon" but it's close enough). As I understand it, there isn't one definitive belt ranking system for Hapkido and the systems can vary from school to school. At our club the belt colours go in this order:
  1. White (lowest)
  2. Yellow
  3. Blue
  4. Blue with a red stripe
  5. Red
  6. Red with a black stripe
  7. Black belt (there are several different degrees of black belt called "Dans")
I think this is a fairly standard ranking system too. We had a test for our blue belts recently but it was too soon for us and we didn't pass but hopefully next time we'll nail it.

Overall, hapkido is pretty good fun and good exercise too. Some days the exercises at the beginning are really heavy going and seem to go on forever until you feel like you're going to die while on other days we do hardly any and I end up wishing we would do more rather than just sitting around watching other people do wrist locks. But usually the balance between exercise and skill building is pretty good and I think we both feel healthier for it (apart from when we injure ourselves in stupid ways!). Also, it's surprising how quickly you can build up physical strength so that the warm up exercises don't seem as bad as they felt at the beginning. One of the drawbacks is that class usually runs from 9pm to 10.15pm so we don't get home to late and it decimates our evenings as we can't do much before we go, we certainly can't drink any booze unless we wanted to break our necks. Also, the language barrier can be difficult sometimes especially when trying to learn new moves but everyone there is friendly and pretty patient so we get there eventually. Also, there is usually at least one kid there who speaks enough English to translate what is being said. The class was quite mixed when we first started, with a good blend of adults and teenagers, Koreans and waygooks. Now, however, most of the adults and the waygooks seem to have stopped coming so Rowan and I are often the only people over the age of 20 and are usually the only foreigners there which is a bit of a shame. A lot of high school and middle school kids (including a couple of Rowan's students) come to the class now and even a kid from elementary school so classes can be pretty noisy as the kids like to mess about.

Even so though, they're still fun and most of the people are really friendly and happy to talk to us and show us how to do things and they generally treat us as the same as each other (the master just beats us a little less!). We even get taken home at the end of the night in the club's minibus, driven at breakneck speed by one of the young black belt guys - an exciting end to an evening's session. The master is really kind and is always giving us random gifts. This week he gave us a huge jar of Korean citrus tea which looks a lot like marmalade and is particularly good to drink when you have a cold. Not sure if we were looking ill or something but very generous of him anyway. He is the proud owner of a smart phone and is forever trying to communicate with us through it as he doesn't speak much English and our grasp of Korean is laughable. He is also very keen that we come to Hapkido every weekday evening and if for some reason we don't show up (maybe we have drinks to go to or a friend coming over or we just fancy an evening off) he questions us closely about it the next day and starts worrying that we have been sick! We end up making excuses like "Friend - birthday" as our Korean is too limited to explain the real reasons and he probably wouldn't get the concept of just wanting to veg out for a night. Still, hapkido tuition 5 times a week at 50k won a month is a proper bargain so I'm not complaining.

The Master in a lighthearted mood, juggling tangerines after class.

The gruesome twosome holding tangerines after class.

The master has told us that if we work hard we should be able to make black belt by the time we leave Korea but, as I stagger away from the floor mat after having whacked myself in the face with my knee while doing some roll, I do wonder if he's being just a little it optimistic!